American Discontent Focused On Financial Grievances, But The Chief Reason For American Opposition Was The Matter Of Authority. How Far Do You Agree With This View? Essay, Research Paper
American discontent focused on financial grievances, but the chief reason for American opposition was the matter of authority. How far do you agree with this view?
There were a number of causes that lead to conflict between Britain and the colonists in America during the second half of the eighteenth century. The question is whether an American rebellion was mostly due to a difference of opinion over how much independence the colonies were entitled to, or whether other reasons such as the difficulties imposed on America by taxation and control of trade were equally to blame.
Certainly, the argument that Britain did not have the authority to deny the basic right of liberty to all of the colonists was a major reason for opposition. American society was favourable to democracy, as there was little class distinction and few wealthy people. Many Americans believed that British legislation concerning the colonies was ignoring the rights and privileges that every man was entitled to. They thought that the taxes and duties imposed by the government of Britain were invading their social and political liberties. Through laws such as the Molasses Act of 1733, which taxes molasses imports from outside the Empire, many businessmen in America suffered. The Northern colonies were particularly badly affected. For example, Rhode Island imported 14 000 barrels and only 2 500 came from the British islands in the middle of the eighteenth century. Laws such as this meant that a man could not ?enjoy the fruits of his own work?, and made a capitalist marketing idea, which was considered as important by many colonists, very hard to carry through. The fact that although most of America did not hold the religion of the Church of England and yet had to pay taxes to support the church, was considered an invasion of religious liberty. Through hard times caused by imperial legislation, the idea that it would be better for America to seek independence spread encouraging more opposition to Britain. The colonists, believing they had the right of basic liberty therefore opposed the authority the British had used to introduce legislation, which denied their privilege.
However, the financial difficulties created by the taxes and duties caused many grievances, which must have been the initial first step to cause people to object. Although arguments about how Britain should not have the authority to take away American liberties were convenient, financial grievances were what effected the people and the businesses in America more. Prices were high, as British goods were not as cheap as some goods from the continent, and tariffs made the initial price of non-British goods too high to buy. Most of America was badly affected as over 2/3 of people were farmers and merchants. For instance, duties of tea, paper, glass and painters colours led to non-consumption agreements from the merchants of New England, which lasted from 1968 to 1970. This opposition resulted in the dropping of all duties except those on tea. The financial problems caused for many businesses clearly led to massive opposition to British legislation and shows that financial grievances were what opposition was focused around. Without any financial difficulties, it is not clear whether there would be such opposition, therefore the matter of authority can be seen as an argument used to attempt to deal with the more important problem of finance.
On the other hand, such legislation encouraged the growth of the common opinion that there should be ?no taxation without representation?. The Stamp tax imposed on newspapers and legal documents in 1764 is a classic example. It was resisted all over the colonies with a clear argument that if they were not represented in Westminster they should not be taxed. The opposition led to dropping of the Act, but also to the passing of the Declaratory Act, stating Westminster Parliament had the right to tax the colonies when and, as it felt fit. This only encouraged opposition such as the ?Sons of Liberty? and various other opposition clubs. Support for such groups rose because all sections of society were against the taxes. The sections that were particularly concerned over the matter of authority were the educated men, who believed they had the right to decide their own destinies. Also the working class labourers and merchants, who did not leave their own countries for a new land only to be taxed even higher by the nation they left. Neither group felt Britain should have the right to introduce such unwanted legislation. It is clear that there was widespread opposition to the right of the British Parliament to introduce laws without consulting the Americans, and therefore the matter of British authority was a major contribution to American resistance.
The question of why such great opposition to British authority did not arise earlier in the eighteenth century is an important one. The Navigation Acts from the period of Cromwell in 1661, which controlled colonial trade with rules such as American goods having to go to Britain before they departed for Europe, ensuring they posed no threat to British goods, were a major show of British authority. Yet, there was not as much opposition as when the export tax on any foreign good entering the colonies from outside the empire was increased from 2 % to 5% in 1764. The effects of the Seven Years War may be responsible causing great damages in America, as the people had greatly suffered through fighting against the French and Spanish, but more importantly it was a very expensive war. The legislation introduced after the war was meant to raise taxes for the British expenses during the war, however the colonies were in a worse position now than before the war. There was much more new legislation including the Sugar Duties Act, which put a 3d duty on one gallon immediately after the war. The effects caused major financial problems for the Americans, with the rise in large debts to English merchant firms. Due to financial legislation being more effective after the war, with tightening up of all the past legislation and a new fight against smuggling, the financial difficulties were much higher. This lead to conflict against the British rule and makes the statement that British authority was the chief reason for opposition less accurate.
In contrast, it can be argued that the growth of the theory of independence was why opposition increased after the war. The American war leaders, such as George Washington, were able to gain training and experience in the Seven Years War, which may have given the colonists more ideas of breaking away from the power of the British. The war had also caused the colonies to work together under the threat of the French. The Albany conference called in 1754 talked about appointing a president-General as leader of all 13 colonies. They also proposed a council of colonies in which all representatives would decide on common things such as defence, taxes and relations with indigenous people. The war allowed the colonies to work together without too much British influence. When it was over and Parliament attempted to regain tight control through new legislation, the colonists naturally questioned whether Britain should have the authority to do so and for most, the answer was no. In turn, American discontent grew and focused on lessening British authority.
Focus on British authority was also due to the bad handling of the land problem in America. There was chaos on the western front of the colonies. Land speculators who had lived on the frontiers and made a living from fur trading had tried to organise a land company. Those who had fought French had been promised land as a reward. In 1763 Grenville upset both groups because he had stopped further expansion. The Proclamation line was drawn running along the crest of the Appalacian Mountains. The Quebec Act of 1774 was also an attempt to curb American development. Creating a colony without an assembly was an indication of what Britain was planning to do in other colonies. These disliked actions turned most colonists bitter towards British authority, and in effect encouraged further opposition such as the idea of independence.
Although years of opposition concerning authority was clearly important. The first major event, which showed how strong American discontent was, concerned taxes. The Boston Tea Party as a result of the Regulating Act of 1773, was the first sign of resistance moving to revolution. ?11 000 worth of chests of newly taxed tea was emptied into Boston harbour by a group of Americans led by Sam Adams. They rebelled against British actions, but the most important reason for the rebellion was not British authority. It was the fact that many merchants faced ruins, as did the smugglers of course the price of tea was below the smuggled price. This event acted as a catalyst to other rebellions by merchants and farmers, who had to rebel or loose their livelihoods. Discontent obviously focused on financial grievances and this was the initial reason leading to rebellion, which is why the issue of authority can not possibly undoubtedly be found to be the chief reason for American opposition.
To sum up, American opposition focused on many issues involving financial difficulties caused towards farmers and merchants. Their livelihoods were threatened and this pushed the people into reacting, as shown by the Boston Tea Party. However, people equally objected to British use of authority, which led to a target for the colonists to break away from British rule and in effect encouraged the colonies to unite.
In my opinion, opposition against British rule stemmed from financial difficulties as they affected the fundamental issues in people?s lives. Without these problems, it is probable that the support for the fight against the British would not have been enough, as merchants, farmers and labourers would not have enough reason to put everything they had into opposing the British. However, it must not be forgotten that British authority created the financial problems, amongst also endangering liberty. Without the threat of loosing essential liberties, there may not have been the same numbers of opposition. Ultimately, it is clear that British authority and the financial problems facing the colonies are strongly linked and are proportional to each other. It is therefore wrong to state that authority is the chief reason for American discontent. A more accurate conclusion would be to assume that financial difficulties are equally responsible for American opposition, and that these two inter-related issues inevitably led to the War of American Independence and the fall of British foreign rule.